Martha Nussbaum’s Creating Capabilities

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 29, 2011

Last April, Martha Nussbaum’s book Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach came out. Too late for being included in my entry on the capability approach at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but I’m immediately making up for that omission since I’m working on a book review for the Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews. My verdict? It’s a useful introduction for undergrads and policy makers, but given its length it doesn’t (and cannot) have much depth. (for me, that’s not a criticism: it’s by definition almost impossible for introductory books that cover such a broad range of disciplines to have much, if any, depth). Yet I think it is somewhat more problematic that something is missing that many undergraduates and most policy makers reading this book will want to know, since it doesn’t cover the empirical work being done. Hence the book also ignores all the questions related to measurement, which is, in my experience, the #1 question asked by economists who want to understand this framework, and by policy makers looking for an answer to the question whether the approach has any bite.

One could be inclined to believe that this is merely a teaching book, and it is with that assumption that I read it; yet there is also something in there for scholars of the approach. They will also discover some new claims and statements – some of which I endorse, and some of which I contest.
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